Nfld. & Labrador

Deer Lake Airport sees 'whopping' numbers for record-setting summer

A strong summer tourist season has set a record for passenger numbers at the western Newfoundland airport.

Airport initially thought 2016 would see a slump in passenger numbers

August was the busiest month ever at the Deer Lake Airport, according to its CEO. (CBC)

Summer 2016 has been one for the record books at Deer Lake Airport, with its highest passenger numbers ever for June, July and August.

In those three months, 130,398 passengers set foot on the tarmac in the western Newfoundland community, with August in particular described as "whopping" by the airport authority's CEO, with more than 50,000 travellers recorded.

"It was the busiest month ever in the history of the airport," said Jamie Schwartz.

Schwartz welcomed the statistics, especially after a rocky start to the year, in which he predicted a downward slump in passenger numbers would continue through 2016, as the slump in oil prices meant fewer workers were commuting to Alberta.

Deer Lake Airport CEO Jamie Schwartz says tourists, not oil workers, are the reason for the record-setting summer. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

That trend did continue, he said, but didn't keep other types of travellers from filling up planes daily.

"Overall our traffic to and from Fort McMurray with commuting workers is down from last year, so most of this traffic was generated strictly by the tourism numbers," he told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

"We knew from speaking to tourism officials back in the spring that we anticipated a busy summer, but this far exceeded our expectations, there's no doubt."

Schwartz credited the low loonie for helping more Canadians choose a domestic travel destination like Newfoundland's west coast.

Early morning rush

The addition of several early morning flights also helped increase capacity at the airport, with two direct flights to Toronto, and two to Halifax, all departing between 5 and 6 a.m.

Everybody wins when there's a lot of traffic.- Jamie Schwartz

Schwartz called that traffic "significant," although the four flights do cause a bit of a space crunch.

"It's something that we've grown over the years, so it's become a little easier," he said.

"We have a great facility, even though our capacity was somewhat challenged during that peak hour."

Air Canada also expanded its services in Deer Lake in June, adding a second daily direct evening flight to Toronto.

Overall, Schwartz has now revised his prediction for 2016, and anticipates the airport will see bigger numbers than 2015.

He noted as of the end of August, traffic is up 6.5 per cent over the year before, and that's been good news not just for the airport itself, but the smaller businesses within it, such as the rental car agencies, gift shop and restaurant.

"Everybody wins when there's a lot of traffic."

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show